A hokey homage to Dexy’s Midnight Runners in anticipation of ‘megas’

Not since Gloria in 1985 has a Hurricane tracked inland over New England. On Sunday 28th August, Irene stayed true to her predicted course. Although weakened by the time it tracked up the Hudson River of Manhattan and passed over Danbury, CT it coincided with a new moon high tide and the resulting surge brought widespread devastation to the shoreline of CT.  As I write this on 31st August, although our home and new deck came through unscathed, we are still without power in our neighborhood. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep the beer cold.

 On the flipside, we hoped (prayed) that Irene would bring with her a bounty of storm-driven birds And boy, did she deliver…and then some! Anticipation was high, but I don’t think many people could have expected the sheer number and variety of species recorded. As usual, CT being in the shadow of Long Island was shielded from the bulk of the bounty but for those of us that braved the conditions, we were all rewarded with some great birds.

28th August – Morningside Drive, Milford
Nick Bonomo and I had reconnoitered the situation and tentatively planned to watch from this elevated vantage point and, importantly, we could watch from inside the car. The hoped-for bird-laden, front-right quadrant of the storm would be slap bang where we were. The weather had deteriorated through the early morning and when Nick called to say access was hindered by trees and it was looking grim out it didn’t fill me with high hopes.  I made a coffee and got ready to head out, and made a follow-up call from Nick. I sprayed a mouthful of coffee all over the floor when he told me he just had an adult SOOTY TERN and a JUV. LONG-TAILED JAEGER!!!! 

15 minutes later, I arrived and pulled in to the American Legion parking lot to look over the ocean.

Long Island Sound from the American Legion, Milford

Immediately above me I noticed a tern which, to my amazement, was an adult SOOTY TERN – my first in CT! I fired off a few shots in the appalling weather. I am proud to say these are some of the worst ever shots of a Sooty Tern..but they’re MY worst shots!

Ad. Sooty Tern, Milford – note contrasting underwing visible on this horrendous shot!
 I quickly joined Nick and we set up shop in his car. Nothing was moving, not even local terns and gulls…any bird at that point was likely to be a ‘goodie’. Time ticked by and aside from a “dark, unidentified bird”, it was disappointingly quiet…WTF!!! We were in contact with Frank Mantlik in Stratford and told him that there were birds out there. He called back with 50 Red-necked Phalaropes flying around the flooded marsh at Stratford. Nick called out “storm-petrel going right” and to my relief I was lucky enough to put my scope right on it. It’s quite aerial flight, with banking and shearing afforded good views of a longer-winged petrel with a nice wrap-around rump patch. No striking carpal bar and relatively dark upperparts were all hallmarks of BAND-RUMPED PETREL…a species we were both familiar with, it had suddenly got better!


Mr. Bonomo clearly happy after our distant Band-rumped!

Still no more terns materialized and surprisingly no jaegers, but at this point we were both ecstatic. Calls from Fran Zygmont that he had possible Leach’s bode well for those land-locked birders with lakes to check. After an hour of no birds, a call from Frank Mantlik alerted us to a group of SOOTY TERNS feeding in a small bay by a restaurant off RT#1 The opportunity to see Sooty Tern better was enough to make us leave. Arriving after some detours caused by flooding and downed trees, we arrived to an insane scene. 6-8 Sooty Terns were scything back and forth in the wind, almost too fast to get really good views. In the bay, almost at arm’s length were two Black terns feeding with Common Terns. Without warning, the terns must have sensed a clearing, and all the birds bolted south down the Housatonic heading for the ocean.

It was at this point that things got frustrating…..access to all ideal coastal vantage points were inaccessible and blocked off by the police. With the window of opportunity dwindling we were forced to try elsewhere. We all split up, and I headed homeward bound, since my house was now out of power and my wife and son had been patiently weathering the storm without me.

Checking spots along the coast I was rewarded with another two Sooty Terns and Red-necked Phalarope… Call me greedy, but I was half-hoping for more birds…especially given that we had reports of two White-tailed Tropicbirds and lots of stuff, including Bridled Terns off New York.

Downed power lines and trees have made some roads impassable and left 700,000 without power. It also brought widespread destruction, but thankfully most survived unscathed.

A truly remarkable day!


2 Responses to “”

  1. simon smethurst Says:

    As the saying goes my friend. You got to be in it to win it! I’ve had some of my most awesome birding experiences by going out into the teeth of a gale, or predicting bird movements in association with strong weather patterns. Just reward for making the effort. Well done!

  2. Graham Etherington Says:

    Sounds like great fun. I reckon birders are the only people who get excited at the prospect of a hurricane or tropical storm hitting their shores!

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